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January 8th, 2014
08:39 AM ET

Pastor tries atheism, loses jobs, gains $19,000

By Daniel Burke, Belief Blog Co-editor

(CNN) - In the past, at times like these, when his life foundered and frayed around the edges, Ryan Bell often prayed for help. But this year, at least, the pastor has resolved not to.

For the next 12 months, Bell says he will live as if there is no God.

He will not pray, go to church, read the Bible for inspiration, trust in divine providence or hope in things unseen. He’s taking the opposite of a leap of faith: a free fall into the depths of religious doubt.

Bell’s “intellectual experiment,” which began January 1, has already borne dramatic consequences.

In less than a week, he lost two jobs teaching at Christian schools near his home in Los Angeles. He’s 42 and has been a pastor or in seminary for most of his adult life. Now he faces the prospect of poverty and taking odd jobs to feed his two daughters, 10 and 13.

“There have been times, usually late at night and early in the morning, when I think: What have I done? It really undermines the whole structure of your life, your career, your family,” Bell said.

But just as the man of God began to despair, he found help from an unlikely source: atheists.

'Suspending belief '

The seeds of Bell’s journey were planted last March, when he was asked to resign as pastor of a Seventh-day Adventist congregation in Hollywood.

He had advocated for the church to allow gay and lesbian leaders, campaigned against California’s same-sex marriage ban and disputed deeply held church doctrines about the End Times.

Eventually, his theological and political liberalism became more than leaders in the denomination could bear, and he lost his career of 19 years. His faith was shaken, and for a while Bell became a “religious nomad.”

On the positive side, losing his church job gave him the freedom to question the foundations of his religious belief without fear of troubling his congregation.

“I could finally pursue those questions that had been bouncing around my head,” he said, while earning money from teaching, speaking and consulting jobs.

MORE ON CNN: Behold, the six types of atheists

Then, after lunch with a friend last year, he thought: What if he tried out atheism, and lived with no religion at all for a year?

“It’s like when you go to a movie and you suspend disbelief for three hours to get inside the story,” Bell said. “I’m suspending my belief in God to see what atheism is all about.”

Bell, who still holds ministerial credentials in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, thought it would be a neat little intellectual experiment.

He would interview atheists, attend gatherings of nonbelievers and read through the canon of skeptics: Friedrich Nietzsche, Baruch Spinoza, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, among others.

When friends got sick, instead of praying, as was once his immediate response, Bell said, he would “do something tangible and practical and supportive for them.”

He would start a blog, “Year Without God,” and write about his faithless journey. Bell thought maybe a few people would read his posts, follow along and offer advice or criticism.

“I didn’t realize, even four days ago, how difficult it would be for some people to embrace me while I was embracing this journey of open inquiry into the question of God’s existence,” Bell wrote on Saturday.

‘We need to talk’

The first signs of trouble came around the turn of the new year, just days after Bell announced his experiment online.

Texts and e-mails arrived from friends, family and colleagues with the ominous phrase, “We need to talk.”

Kurt Fredrickson, a friend of Bell’s and associate dean of ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, sent one of those messages.

Bell, a graduate of Fuller, had taught in the school’s doctorate development program for the past year. But Fredrickson told his friend that his sabbatical from faith meant a sabbatical from the seminary as well.

“From an academic standpoint, and even as a personal journey, I’m really excited about what Ryan is doing,” Fredrickson said.

"There is no honest person of faith who doesn’t have doubts, and Ryan is being courageous enough to take a step back and assess his life. This is bold stuff.”

But Bell’s job at Fuller was to help students through their doctoral dissertations, a particularly stressful time, Fredrickson said, when seminarians need to lean on a person with strong faith.

“They are flying solo for the first time, and we want to not only teach, but to nurture souls as well,” Fredrickson said. “Ryan saying he’s going to be an atheist for a year is a little contradictory to that.”

Fuller would be happy to talk to Bell when his experiment is over, the dean added.

MORE ON CNN: What Oprah gets wrong about atheism

Azusa Pacific University, where Bell had taught intercultural communication since 2011, also declined to renew his contract.

Rachel White, a spokeswoman for the school, wouldn’t comment, saying it was an internal personnel matter. But she said all school and faculty are expected to sign a statement of faith outlining their belief in Christianity.

Also this year, Bell lost a consulting job with a Seventh-day Adventist Church in Glendale, California.

Bell said he bears no ill will toward the church or the schools that let him go, though he wishes they would tolerate, if not support, his atheism experiment. The loss of income has led to some family stress, he said.

“I have kids to support and utilities to pay and the rent is due,” Bell said. “At this point I’m willing to do almost anything.” Bell said he and his wife are divorcing, though not because of his atheist experiment.

Meanwhile, the phone calls, e-mails and texts from friends and family worried about the fate of his soul continue to pour in.

‘A beautiful gesture’

“He learned what it’s like to be an atheist real fast,” said Hemant Mehta, a prominent atheist blogger and schoolteacher in Illinois.

Mehta said he knows many atheists who fear that “coming out of the closet” will jeopardize their jobs and relationships, just as in Bell’s experience.

Mehta said he doesn’t exactly agree with the premise of Bell’s experiment. How does someone pretend to be an atheist? It’s not like a hat you wear to see if it fits. Faith taps into deeply held beliefs and emotions. Even during his experiment with atheism, won't there still be a nagging suspicion in the back of Bell’s mind that God exists?

(For the record, Bell describes his current theological views as agnostic - somewhere between belief and atheism. But he's trying to put that aside for the year to live and think like an atheist.)

Mehta said he admired Bell’s pluck and sympathized with his plight. Though he had never spoken with the pastor, Mehta set up an online fundraiser for Bell on Tuesday. In just one day, nearly 900 people donated more than $19,000 to help “the pastor giving atheism a try.”

“I think more than anything else, people appreciate that this guy is giving atheism a shot,” Mehta said. “I mean, he lost three jobs in the span of a week just for saying he was exploring it.”

Bell said he knows Christians and agnostics who have contributed to his fundraiser as well, so it’s not an all-atheist effort.

Still, he’s impressed that nonbelievers have flocked to help fund his experiment

“It really validates that the (atheist) community is really all about the search for truth,” Bell said. “They know that I might not even end up as an atheist at the end of my search, but it doesn’t matter to them. It’s such a beautiful gesture.”

Will the support tip Bell toward atheism? The pastor is agnostic about that, too – for now.

MORE ON CNN: Can atheist churches last?

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Christianity • evangelicals • Faith • Lost faith

soundoff (6,251 Responses)
  1. boomtown

    Article translation: "Pastor is surprised when he is no longer given money to be a pastor after declaring plans to be atheist." Very similar to the 4 January New York Times article: "Gun Magazine editor surprised when gun companies stop sending him free samples after declaring support for gun control"

    Folks, its a crazy world we live in today. I think I'd like to jump in on this gravy-train. Watch for an article in the near future "Pilot surprised when salary dries up after decision to cease flying on moral grounds" Please donate to the soon-to-follow support website.

    January 9, 2014 at 12:03 am |
    • Ben

      Actually, didn't they drop him because his faith isn't rock-solid? You can see where people might interpret that as a heavy-handed attempt to keep him from voicing any doubt. As atheists we're use to stories of parents threatening to cut doubting children out of Christmas, for example. So, to us, this just seems like another attempt to bully someone back into the fold.

      January 9, 2014 at 12:31 am |
  2. Michael

    Faith in religion, fairies, trolls, unicorns, show how wonderful our creative imagination helps us with our fear of life. Early primitive people who lived with just fire and wooden spears against the elements 10,000 years ago had their own unique believes. Basically, you believe in what you need to live and not be afraid. That does not mean it's real or true, sorry.

    January 8, 2014 at 11:54 pm |
    • Bart

      Thanks for your 2 cents. That does not mean your theory is real or true, sorry.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:57 pm |
  3. JLS639

    I agree with Mehta. I am having trouble wrapping my head around this. I am an atheist. I could act like I think believers act, but I would not believe the prayers were heard by anything. A believer could act like an atheist, I suppose, but what would he learn about atheists that he could not get by just reading some atheist literature or talking to some atheists? Strange.

    January 8, 2014 at 11:47 pm |
    • Bart

      I guess if you wanted to stop being an atheist you would have to cut off your pony tail and wipe that smug look off your stupid face. Also you would have to stop drowning kittens.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:50 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      My guess is he is trying to hedge his bet...but I agree. This is the sort of thing the Clergy Project was meant for.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:52 pm |
  4. ManSwallowedByWhaleThatsAGoodOne

    Still trying to find Kangaroos in the Bible. Can anybody help me?

    January 8, 2014 at 11:38 pm |
    • sgt hulka

      only god can help you

      January 8, 2014 at 11:41 pm |
      • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

        Sounds like you are one your own according to Hulka..

        January 8, 2014 at 11:45 pm |
      • ManSwallowedByWhaleThatsAGoodOne

        Why? Is he a speed reader?

        January 8, 2014 at 11:46 pm |
  5. puddintane

    lets just all smoke dope, that fixes everything

    January 8, 2014 at 11:36 pm |
    • Bart

      Yea, man, lets smoke LSD and jump out windows.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:48 pm |
  6. Craig

    This makes no sense as a Christian. I don't have a problem with him asking questions, but setting a timeline as if he is in charge of his faith (as if it's not a gift from God) shows that he really shouldn't be a pastor or teacher of the faith. His questioning really should be between him and God. That said, I hope it goes well for him and his faith comes back to him.

    January 8, 2014 at 11:33 pm |
    • ManSwallowedByWhaleThatsAGoodOne

      The fact that he's willing to do it makes him a teacher...and a person that doesn't take magical burning bushes and big boats where natural predators all get along fairy tales at their word.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:36 pm |
    • skarphace

      His faith never really left him as he would not have gone on this spiritual journey without faith. Therefore, he is still a Christian, albeit one who is questioning his faith. He is not an Atheist. If his faith survives his questioning, his faith will end up stronger because of it. Most religious leaders go through such a period.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:37 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      While I agree with you point I hope he discards his faith like the bad habit it is...I didn't lose faith, I discarded it as useless tool. Sounds like he is on his way...good for him.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:37 pm |
    • James

      If faith is a gift from God – then why does God withhold it from so many people only to punish them with Hell?

      January 8, 2014 at 11:50 pm |
      • Bart

        Stop touching yourself so much.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:51 pm |
        • skarphace

          Why? Is it a sin? God, I hope not.

          January 9, 2014 at 12:06 am |
        • Bart

          Let me google that and get back to you.

          January 9, 2014 at 12:18 am |
  7. ManSwallowedByWhaleThatsAGoodOne

    So when someone is sick, do you thank God for making them sick as well as thank him for when that person heals?

    January 8, 2014 at 11:29 pm |
    • Better yet

      Hospital surgeons are often bothered by the fact that after they bring much talent and effort into saving people, religious families often thank god and not them.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:34 pm |
      • Bob

        Can you back that claim up about surgeons?

        January 8, 2014 at 11:40 pm |
    • skarphace

      You thank God that you were alive and healthy enough to help them through their sickness, or to give them comfort during their last days. That was an easy question, and answered by an Atheist.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:35 pm |
      • ManSwallowedByWhaleThatsAGoodOne

        So when people say "thank god they're alright", they mean that they're thankful that they were alive to witness this person being alright?

        January 8, 2014 at 11:37 pm |
        • Bart

          Do you curse evolution for not granting you critical thinking skills?

          January 8, 2014 at 11:53 pm |
        • skarphace

          No, that is just a cliché.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:59 pm |
  8. dallas c.

    Rey, how long would an atheist last if he came out and said "Its a miracle their is a God! I suspect they would bury him under a church.

    January 8, 2014 at 11:29 pm |
    • Ben

      Why? Do you think that the grammar police would whack him for using "their" instead of "there"?

      January 8, 2014 at 11:33 pm |
  9. Abe killed Lot over Real Estate? Hhhhhmmmm.

    +++++++++++++++ 🙂 ++++++++++++++++++++++

    January 8, 2014 at 11:18 pm |
    • Wilmington Delaware

      Is going to cut off your internet if you don't stop trolling.
      🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

      January 8, 2014 at 11:28 pm |
      • Has to be a lunker somewhere. :)

        ,,, 🙂 Other side of the boat?

        January 8, 2014 at 11:42 pm |
  10. Thomas Felke

    Okay, what if someone who heads up a skeptics society, or the president of an atheist organization said that they wanted to try theism? Would atheists really let them keep their jobs as leaders of organizations specifically dedicated to advancing atheist ideas? Why?

    January 8, 2014 at 11:14 pm |
    • Just me

      It appears that most of us do not belong to any atheist organizations, so I think most of us wouldn't care about the internal politics either.

      He was probably on the outs anyway for thinking gays were human beings, so it did make for a more credible firing.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:26 pm |
    • skarphace

      No. If an Atheist decided to try theism, he would merely start going to Church. Other atheists probably wouldn't even take notice. I am an atheist and I go to Church all the time. Nobody, least of all other atheists, belittle me for it.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:40 pm |
    • Ben

      Less would happen than you think, likely. A great many atheists were once theists, so we're not afraid of exposure to religion.

      Maybe you're just projecting the fear of doubt that you were indoctrinated with?

      January 8, 2014 at 11:42 pm |
  11. bob

    Religious discrimination is not an act of faith, but an act of cowardice. It is the primordial herding instinct that fears anyone who is not a member of the herd. To fear members of other faiths or those with no religion at all is not a demonstration of faith but a sign sure sign that it is lacking. I suspect that people who shun and discriminate against members of society who aren't the "right kind" of Christians or are members of different religions or none at all must be followers of a lesser god than the one that sent Jesus Christ to us. I find no fear or discrimination or hatred in his words, only kindness and understanding.

    January 8, 2014 at 10:56 pm |
  12. redzoa

    "But Bell’s job at Fuller was to help students through their doctoral dissertations, a particularly stressful time, Fredrickson said, when seminarians need to lean on a person with strong faith"

    Well, that's news to many post-docs from other disciplines. While an advisor's and committee's confidence in a student's research, analytical and writing skills is always helpful, I never knew a successful dissertation also required religious faith . . .

    January 8, 2014 at 10:49 pm |
    • Greeny

      When your doctoral dissertation is on magic and invisible men in the sky, support gets sketchy.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:00 pm |
    • John Hillman

      You make the exact point "MOST disciplines". The job he had requires an expressed faith in the existence of a "God". Whether we believe or not does not matter. It is a clear requirement for HIS EMPLOYMENT.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:10 pm |
      • redzoa

        I wasn't questioning the requirements of his employment contract, i.e. I recognize that religious organizations are completely and rightly free to impose religious litmus tests on their employees. As noted by Greeny, I was distinguishing between the commonly accepted qualifications for successful scholarship in virtually every secular discipline as opposed to the apparent extra requirements to "objectively" qualify one to study and comment upon questions of theology.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:23 pm |
        • redzoa

          I should qualify that "completely and rightly free" statement to reference only those that serve in "ministerial" roles pursuant to Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission . . .

          January 8, 2014 at 11:28 pm |
  13. KnightofMalta

    Atheists DO NOT, search for truth. They worship knowledge and themselves, simply that and nothing more. I am not saying learning is bad. No it is a very good thing, science is a good thing and I personally really enjoy chemistry.

    Atheists on the other hand literally worship knowledge, their own senses (what you can touch basically). Asking questions such as how they know what they know and if they can really know anything, fall without answer. Yet even in this clear lacking in their own understanding they are still to ready to say "god does not exist".

    Along with this, they clearly contradict themselves in there own beliefs (yes, they are not truly fact believers but rather people of blind faith as well) and are all to ready to overturn "omne vivum ex vivo" as long as it fits the theory they want to believe (abiogenesis and the following evolution). All to ready as well to ignore the massive chances necessary to support their theories, which would make it more likely for me to find every different brand of cola in rivers rather then the life they suppose to have simply sprung from the earth and evolved to what it is today. It also ignores the sheer chances brought up by the Fermi Paradox, which would seem to point to us being special, or at least the process leading to us begin different from the process that many atheists believe led to our existence.

    They can't say why our universe is the way it is, why and how it has laws that govern it or even how and why really it is even there.

    January 8, 2014 at 10:47 pm |
    • Malta has some dumb-ass knights

      That was a doozy of a straw man fallacy.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:49 pm |
      • KnightofMalta

        lol.

        Ok, so you want to prove to me I misrepresented your ideals or beliefs. Answer the questions then.

        Starting out with this. Can you know anything? Basically, how do you know what you know?

        January 8, 2014 at 11:00 pm |
        • Snafu

          I peed on an electric fence once and it hurt. I don't pee on electric fences anymore. I LEARNED not to pee on electric fences.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:08 pm |
        • malta has some extra super dumb-ass knights

          Your straw man was the lame and false claims of what atheists worship, which is both patently false and the fallacy of equivocation. As for the sophistry game you want to play, if your bottom line is "God used magic", then forget it. That is just sophistry, not logic, and definitely not evidence.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:09 pm |
        • Leon

          To "know" is nebulous terminology. Any question in which "know" is involved can not be answered until "know"'s definition is established providing a baseline for the answer. E.g. To know a fact is different from knowing someone.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:25 pm |
        • redzoa

          " E.g. To know a fact is different from knowing someone."

          Particularly so if one is speaking in the biblical sense . . .

          January 8, 2014 at 11:29 pm |
    • redzoa

      1. Atheism is a spectrum. Some do (inappropriately IMHO) affirmatively claim "gods do not exist" but many others simply conclude that in the absence of evidence for gods, they likely do not exist. This difference may appear subtle, but it is significant.
      2. Atheists do not "worship" knowledge. They don't pray to science texts or experiments. Respecting the inherent value of knowledge and the demonstrable applicability of science is not a religious exercise.
      3. This post appears to make some common errors with respect to the application of probability to various events, stopping just short of the silly and ill-informed "tornado in a junkyard" analogy.
      4. As opposed to ID/creationism, there is mechanistic evidence supporting plausible routes for abiogenesis. Similarly, regardless of how life arose, there is no real scientific debate regarding whether or not present observable biodiversity is the product of biological evolution.
      5. The Fermi Paradox makes many assumptions and appears to effectively disregard the obstacles of interstellar travel and communication in an incredibly vast universe.
      6. The inability to definitively answer how a given observation came to be does not logically default to "god did it."

      January 8, 2014 at 11:05 pm |
    • doobzz

      "Atheists DO NOT, search for truth. They worship knowledge and themselves, simply that and nothing more."

      Way to generalize.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:08 pm |
    • Mags

      Great post, Knight....great points

      January 8, 2014 at 11:08 pm |
    • ES71

      OK, well, Christians search don't search for truth either. They think they already know it all.
      Actually, as it is clear from this article, search fro truth is actively discouraged by the Church.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:08 pm |
      • Alorin

        What church do you refer to? It's not my version of Christianity. Have you never heard of Apologetics? Of course Christians are supposed to question God. Has no one actually read the Psalms? They are full of questions. Organized religions like Catholicism, Mormonism, Lutherism...pretty much anything ending in ISM follow many man made policies and traditions that have no basis on Biblical truth. I call these religions cults: "a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.." Sadly, it is these organizations which have tainted people's view of religion and true Christianity.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:55 pm |
        • sam stone

          how many christians do you think question the existence of god, or the need for salvation?

          January 9, 2014 at 6:32 am |
    • bob

      You obviously don't know many atheists. They don't worship anything. That's what religious people do. They worship, they fear, they beg to have their precious souls spared from eternal damnation, they take no responsibility for their actions because everything that happens is the will of whichever god they subscribe to and usually have such a limited understanding of how the world works that they don't realize that they are not, in fact, being punished by god, but merely fleeced by unscrupulous politicians and scoundrels who believe in exactly the same god that they do. Atheists, on the other hand, are quite content to see the world as it really is and find it rather intriguing and kind of a fun place to live. They don't expect miracles to save them from blizzards or hurricanes and they take full responsibility for the consequences of their actions. I could go on but the hour is late. Suffice to say that your garden variety atheist is not searching for something or someone to worship but simply trying to get along in the world without being discriminated against by religious zealots like the ones that roasted Giordano Bruno or tore Hypatia to shreds.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:10 pm |
      • Just The Facts

        Atheists worship the devil, and they worship themselves. And both are going to the lake. Nothing else needs to be said...

        January 8, 2014 at 11:14 pm |
        • Get Real

          How about even ONE single FACT, pal...? You stated zero.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:18 pm |
        • VitaminT

          Are we threatening people with invisible punishment, again?

          January 8, 2014 at 11:34 pm |
        • ManSwallowedByWhaleThatsAGoodOne

          So lakes can be filled with fire instead of water but marriage has to be between a man and a woman?

          January 8, 2014 at 11:40 pm |
        • Just The Facts

          Get Real… Unfortunately, what you call FACTS tend to fly right by people who have "holes" in their heads. Try getting that big hole sealed first…

          January 8, 2014 at 11:40 pm |
        • ManSwallowedByWhaleThatsAGoodOne

          No. Facts are things that can be proven. Prove to us of the existence of your God and lake of fire. Thank you.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:44 pm |
      • Nick!

        Can one worship his idea of NOT needing to worship anything?

        "The wicked one according to his superciliousness makes no search; All his ideas are; There is no God".

        January 8, 2014 at 11:25 pm |
      • KnightofMalta

        Hey I am not planning on tearing atheists apart any time soon, such an idea is revolting and I think you and I can agree on that. I also don't affiliate with those doing such,as I am sure you don't affiliate with Mao,Stalin,and the many other atheist dictators. So yeah, I think we are quite in agreement there.

        Its getting late where I am to. Probably not going to try and keep this up long, just came to ruffle some feathers after reading this rather annoying article about someone who clearly does not believe the same things I do, yet people believe he does.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:28 pm |
        • Ghost of Darwin

          Mao and stalin weren't atheists. They removed the Christian church and replaced it with a cult of personality with them at the center. These men where worshipped as gods. The same is true about north Korea. Kim Jung Ill was viewed as divine in a so called atheist state. So evoking the argument from aggression is a fallacy.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:43 pm |
        • Jesus

          You must be without sin, casting stones like that

          January 8, 2014 at 11:43 pm |
        • Micah

          Name one person ever killed in the NAME of atheism.

          We all know that people have been killed in the name of God.

          January 9, 2014 at 12:01 am |
        • Bart

          Nobody has ever been helped in the name of atheism.

          January 9, 2014 at 12:05 am |
    • Kent

      There is no Christian, Muslim, or Jewish god. Move on please.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:10 pm |
      • winston smith_1984

        In your opinion

        January 8, 2014 at 11:36 pm |
    • John Hillman

      As an atheist YOU may "worship" knowledge. You cannot speak for all atheists. Are you aware that most knowledge is relative and that things that passed for knowledge in the past are now considered to be foolish? Science once said smoking was good for you, eating butter was bad for you, eating eggs was terrible for you, and decaffeinated coffee was much better for you. Since then NEW knowledge has proven those statements are not as "true" (i.e. "knowledge") as they once were.

      Using leeches was denounced as medieval torture and had no place in medicine. Now they are used for reattachment of severed appendages.

      "Worshipping knowledge" requires the same faith as those who believe in the "god".

      January 8, 2014 at 11:16 pm |
    • skarphace

      "Atheists DO NOT, search for truth. They worship knowledge"

      Well, what is truth without knowledge? I hate to break it to you, but faith implies a lack of knowledge and truth implies perfect knowledge, for only when we know everything there is to know about a subject do we arrive at the truth.

      Therefore, your premise is a contradiction in itself as the search for truth requires research and therefore, knowledge.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:16 pm |
      • skarphace

        As an example, what was the theory that the world was flat based on? Faith. How did we arrive at the conclusion that the earth is actually round? Knowledge.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:19 pm |
        • Nick!

          Nope. It appeared the world was flat. That wasn't based in faith. The idea that the Earth was round was based in faith, and later proven by study.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:27 pm |
        • skarphace

          Nope! It appeared the earth was flat, therefore people believed that it was flat. It also appeared that the sun revolved around the earth, and therefore people believe that it did. To believe something is to have faith in something. If you believe in God, then you have faith in his existence.

          Scientific evidence, grounded in research and knowledge, proved these things false. Religion did nothing of the sort.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:44 pm |
    • Just amazed

      Worship in a theological sense can only apply to a deity. You must use another definition of Worship to fit knowledge or atheists, which is the same thing as trying to say bananas are cowardly Asians because all are yellow.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:31 pm |
    • Han

      Your idea of atheism is so out of touch. Atheists do search for truth. Truth for atheists is defined as fact supported by evidence. Atheists don't worship anything at all. They learn facts from evidence and gain knowledge and use the knowledge to guide their lives. Atheists don't bother with questions that have answers not based on evidence. Atheists do not have blind faith. It is in fact the opposite. All faith is blind if the belief is without evidence. Atheists believe when they see the evidence.

      Scientific theories are not the same as theories in general. Scientific theories are not made up. They are based on evidence that are suggestive but not yet conclusive. Such theories are based on evidence that already exists but not yet irrefutable. Scientists don't overturn things to fit their theories. They overturn outdated theories when better theories supported by newer and better evidence become available.

      The time it took for life to evolve to what it is today on Earth is relatively short compared to the age of the universe. It is simply possible that other life are just too far away both in space and in time to be able to find each other. On the other hand, the same time it took for life to evolve is relatively really, really long compared to the lifespan of human. The chance of life evolving to what is it today was indeed small, but given enough time, anything can happen as long as the probability isn't 0. The lottery has a 1 in 180M chance, yet two people in the US was able to win it. I'm pretty sure the total amount of people played was less than 180M.

      Atheists can't say why our universe is the way it is, why and how it has laws that govern it or even how and why really it is even there YET. When technology is sufficient enough to discover the evidence required to answer those questions, that's when atheists will answer them.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:38 pm |
    • Ben

      Despite how wonky your Oprah-ish attempt to tell atheists what we are, you do realize that "worshiping" knowledge would be a primary seeking of truth, right? If that's somehow wrong, then what do you value? Ignorance?

      January 8, 2014 at 11:52 pm |
      • skarphace

        Ignorance is bliss. Especially if you are a televangelist.

        January 9, 2014 at 12:01 am |
  14. a b

    there is a difference between questioning your beliefs and denouncing them altogether. if he's willing to give up God completely for any period of time, his faith must not have been that strong in the first place.

    January 8, 2014 at 10:39 pm |
    • atomD21

      I disagree. I would say he's had a realization that the religion he's been preaching for years and his faith have become incompatible. The God portrayed by the current church is a petty old man that delights in punishing people for stepping outside of the rules that we set up and is only too happy to send countless numbers of people to eternal torture and agony just because they didn't believe exactly the right way. We have taken a faith founded on love and compassion for our fellow man and turned it into an us vs them revenge fantasy. What does it mean to be a Christian anyway? I identify as one, but only because I choose to follow Jesus' teachings as best I can. It seems to me that we are calling ourselves Christian when we pray the "sinner's prayer" and cry a lot, then go about our business like nothing has changed. That is a meaningless ritual that brings no real transformation to a person if they are not then committed to looking at the world in a completely different way from what they used to. Complete change is what Jesus called for, and we don't do anything close to it. We leave our holier than thou time on Sundays and go out with a sense of disdain for all those that weren't in our pews (but not in OUR pews, because hey, those are reserved). We go through life as selfish beings, putting our needs and wants above all else. In my opinion, to follow Jesus is to put all that aside and put the needs of others first, working together to help fix the hurt and suffering in the world as much as we can. The best part of that it that anyone can do it, even without the religiosity. If your faith can be boiled down to pat church answers, then I question whether it is faith at all, or mindless adherence to dogma to make sure the people in the next row over don't talk about you.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:13 pm |
      • Just The Facts

        What you described is certainly not my God – or my church. Won't you be surprised when you get to see the real God on Judgment Day (and trust me, he won't be anything like your imagination)....

        January 8, 2014 at 11:35 pm |
        • Get Real

          Trust you? What makes you think that you have earned any trust?

          January 8, 2014 at 11:46 pm |
        • skarphace

          I, for one, will be very surprised. Especially if it is a Hindu God that I meet. That would also be deliciously ironic to me.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:49 pm |
      • Mayaka

        You think the God of the old testament had hard rules and Jesus is easier. Do you think Jesus here is easier on the laws or do you think the old testament was easier? Matthew 5: j21“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insult his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire""""" He also says Matthew 5: 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus gave the commandments on Mt Sinai, there is no difference between God and the Son, the only difference is that we are able to obey Him because of Grace. We do not need sacrifices because He is our mediator, yet we cannot chose to break His laws. The above examples are clear, this new faddy daddy Christianity is doctrines of devils, Our God expects us to be righteous, He says be Holy for I am Holy, we cannot do it on our own but that does not mean we do not come broken before the throne of mercy and ask for grace to do His will.

        January 9, 2014 at 12:46 am |
    • Ben

      Are you saying that having faith means never questioning your religious beliefs?

      Sounds rather repressive. Not much room for freethinking (or thinking freely, if you like) in Christianity, eh?

      January 8, 2014 at 11:55 pm |
  15. Pol Pot

    The Spanish Inquisition killed about 2,000 people in about 200 years. Joseph Stalin managed to kill millions in 30 years. As much as I hate religious zealots, atheism is a major fail.

    January 8, 2014 at 10:35 pm |
    • Snafu

      Stalin was also a male........................................

      January 8, 2014 at 10:38 pm |
      • Greeny

        He also spent years in an Orthodox seminary trying to become a priest. shhhhh. Don't ruin their fantasy!

        January 8, 2014 at 11:01 pm |
        • ES71

          Yep, Stalin was going to be a priest. And then communists came along and he got involved with them and ended up in jail. And from there it was all downhill for him,

          January 8, 2014 at 11:10 pm |
      • Ben

        He was also a ruthless dictator, like the Christian Hitler. Free a$$embly of any type is generally oppressed by dictators, which is why religion is either controlled, or suppressed in dictatorships. Stalin could care less what superst_itions his people had, but he couldn't allow pastors to have a stage to criticize his government. That's political fear of religion, not atheism.

        January 9, 2014 at 12:05 am |
    • Pol Pot's Hot Pot

      Isn't that a bit prejudicial and anti-individualistic?

      January 8, 2014 at 10:39 pm |
    • 123car

      Stalin did not kill people for religion

      January 8, 2014 at 10:41 pm |
    • Alvin Unchained

      You keep trying that one and failing miserably. 99.999% of Stalin's victims were not for any religious reason at all. Now if you want to say all deaths under a leader are due to religious position of the leader, the Christians still win the body count game by a lot.

      Ever heard of the Taiping Rebellion? Started by a Christion for religious reasons, 20,000,000 dead.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:42 pm |
    • AE

      Most wars are fought over property disputes. I blame real estate agents.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:43 pm |
      • Ben

        Ah, but few things can really be used to demonize an enemy enough for good people to think nothing of slaughtering them like religion. Property may be the motivation, but religious differences are often what make wars so horrific.

        January 9, 2014 at 12:10 am |
    • Saraswati

      Given that there were maybe 7 million people in Spain around that time, millions would have been a lot. And the numbers you are citing for Stalin include all sorts of deaths other than executions, which is what you are looking at for spain. There were maybe 1 million actual executions.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:43 pm |
    • The same flatulent logic

      Men with funny haircuts killed 200 million people in the last hundred years. therefore, all men with funny haircuts are mass murderers.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:44 pm |
      • BlahHa

        ++++++++++^^^^^^^^^^^^++++++++++++: Perfect. Never trust those funky haircuts!

        January 8, 2014 at 11:12 pm |
    • winston smith_1984

      Totally

      January 8, 2014 at 11:39 pm |
    • Keith Grove

      Excuse me, have you forgotten the slaughter of whole societies in South America or are you using your words carefully by separating the genocide in S. America from the Inquisition by saying that the Spanish army did the slaughter.
      Religion allows zealots to impose their own twisted values on the lame brains who have no ability to speak out against their lies.
      And where is god to protect the sheep, absent as usual.

      January 9, 2014 at 12:12 am |
  16. Mack

    I hope the publicity this guy gets ends up netting him a lot of money so he can stay atheist and show the majority how gullible they are.

    January 8, 2014 at 10:34 pm |
    • a b

      people used to think the Earth was flat for a long time, laughing at the "gullible" ones who thought it was round. i wonder how gullible you're going to think Christians are when you have to answer for all your sins on judgement day

      January 8, 2014 at 10:41 pm |
      • skarphace

        You do realize that it was the religious that held onto the belief that the Earth was flat and scientists who proved that the Earth was round, right? Just checking....

        January 8, 2014 at 11:21 pm |
  17. Rey Guzman

    What's so amazing is that the same church that is responsible for his spiritual development would turn its back on him when the pastor decided to explore further into agnostic believes and such. What is the church afraid of? Would people find another path that can lead to higher spirituality than the doctrines they have to offer.?How bad can it be to find the meaning and purpose of our human experience without believing in the "God" of Christian Churches?

    January 8, 2014 at 10:33 pm |
    • a b

      we're not hearing anything from the side of his congregation, so it's unfair to completely take his side. and unless you're a Christian, it might not make sense to understand why church congregations are so 'close-minded' on changing their stance on what is sin that has been ironed out for thousands of years.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:43 pm |
      • Bibletruth

        Sin is defined in the bible as the transgression of the law or lawlessness. That never changes. The internal evidence in the bible is overwhelming as to its truth. By the way the internal evidence is only in the bible and impossible for the rational mind to refute. Obviously anyone can choose to not believe. As Jesus said/says: "whosoever will"....total free will regarding that. But one thing should be said: God does not give you a choice to sin or not sin. He gives you a choice of masters. It is that choice which determines the path of your thoughts, words, and deeds.

        January 9, 2014 at 12:17 am |
    • atomD21

      The Christian church has always been afraid of people questioning what they say, and have gone to ultra violent ends to quell movements against them. It isn't based on anything other than fear of losing their superiority and choke hold on the cultures they are in. There is an unspoken (sometimes spoken) policy in the church to turn your backs on people that decide to question church teachings. People who go their entire lives without questioning what their Pastor/Priest/Minister tells them at all have a very superficial faith based on nothing but religious tradition and are the ones championing the call to stop cultural progress and watching things like the 700 Club and John Hagee. Maybe someday there will be a revolution in the church that takes the focus off the religious nonsense and puts it on helping and compassion for all people.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:57 pm |
      • Beasts marryin' false prophets won't work out.

        !!!!!!!!!!!!$$$$$$$$$$$$$ 🙂 $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        January 8, 2014 at 11:07 pm |
    • John Hillman

      He was ordained by "his church" after he declared a strong belief in the doctrines of that church. He was hired for the other jobs BECAUSE he declared the same belief. When he denied that belief he also violated the terms of employment. They are not required to allow him "time off" to find himself. He chose to terminate the employment by his actions.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:21 pm |
      • skarphace

        Correct. However, that won't stop him from either blaming his lack of faith for his financial position nor giving credit to God when he finally comes back into the fold and sells a few books giving praise to God for saving him from the big, bad Atheism monster.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:23 pm |
  18. James

    There will never be a time in history and it will never be duplicated for the rest of time, something coming about from nothing. It is not ignorance or simply using "God" to bridge the gap. Rather it is look at the evidence. It is plan and easy to see that a being with intelligence who is outside of time created time and space. You don't have to have faith you simply need to know what your looking at. For example how do I know something is man made? If I find a watch in the middle of no where what initial makes me think obviously a person made that watch? I don't have to see it being built to actually know a person with a brain designed this gadget that is sitting in the middle of the forest. You know its man made because it actually serves a purpose. From a window in a house or a brush. Everything Man makes has a purpose behind it. If all the engineers on earth died and all the engineering schools and libraries burned. If all electronic data on engineering zapped away and then we forward time 10,000 years or so and a society that never seen watch or car saw discovered one. There would be a whole blog of people speculating that this watch grew out of nature and/or I just don't know where it comes from. I will choose not to believe a created being must have created this thing with a design to it. It takes more faith not to believe what is plain and easy to see. Its very obvious when you just look at the stars and the complexity of gravity space and time that a conscious decision making being ordered His knowledge and understanding. Just as a simple man can create a watch, an infinitely brilliant being created a universe so big and complex that humanity will never be able to explore it all. It would take an infinite amount of time to master and explore the universe. Its easy and its plain to see. Now I would hope we can be humble and trust that God knows what he is doing and submit ourselves to Him.

    January 8, 2014 at 10:31 pm |
    • Imagine No Religion

      This is the logical fallacy of Argument From Design.

      FAIL, again.

      -–
      "God is a concept by which we measure our pain" – John Lennon.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:49 pm |
      • Nick!

        John Lenon said 'Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can.' That mofo had a Rolls Royce as a paddock bomb!

        January 8, 2014 at 11:18 pm |
    • skarphace

      James: "There will never be a time in history and it will never be duplicated for the rest of time, something coming about from nothing."

      Well, then how do you explain how God came into being. Or are you claiming that God has always been there and therefore never "came from nothing" nor was created from something greater than God. Why is it so much of a stretch to believe that matter has always been there, and not so much of a stretch to believe that something as incredible as a being that can create matter from nothing has always been there? When you go back far enough, something either always existed or was created out of nothing. You believe that was God. Atheists believe that was matter.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:52 pm |
      • MrMightyHigh

        If it was matter that always existed, then what caused the matter to expand from a single point and organize into the universe? None of the laws of matter or physics or gravity or decay or thermodynamics or electro-magnetism can explain what made that point change from a stable condition. There is no effect without a cause, and even a random occurrence requires something for it to occur in.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:24 pm |
        • skarphace

          If it was God that always existed, then how did he create matter out of nothing when something cannot be created out of nothing. What you are saying is to ignore facts and just believe that God is magic and can do things that go against physics. The laws of physics say that matter can change but can neither increase nor decrease. If you melt ice, you get water and if you freeze that water (as.suming that none had evaporated), then you will get the exact same amount of water.

          Matter is the simplest answer. God is the most complex answer. However, believe as you will. I will too.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:27 pm |
        • skarphace

          If it was God that always existed, then how did he create matter out of nothing when something cannot be created out of nothing. What you are saying is to ignore facts and just believe that God is magic and can do things that go against physics. The laws of physics say that matter can change form but can neither increase nor decrease. If you melt ice, you get water and if you freeze that water (as suming that none had evaporated), then you will get the exact same amount of water.

          Matter is the simplest answer. God is the most complex answer. However, believe as you will. I will too.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:29 pm |
        • skarphace

          If it was God that always existed, then how did he create matter out of nothing when something cannot be created out of nothing (as the OP claimed). What you are saying is to ignore facts and just believe that God is magic. How is that the answer that makes the most sense?

          January 8, 2014 at 11:30 pm |
        • skarphace

          I cannot seem to reply to your post. This is a test.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:31 pm |
        • skarphace

          Oh, now all my posts come through at once making me look obtuse. I see how it is.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:51 pm |
        • MrMightyHigh

          skarphace, we are bound here in this physical universe, so it is impossible for us to comprehend a Creator who exists outside of time and space. The point is that only a force outside of this universe could create it (and its laws) where nothing existed before. That's what God is, incomprehensibly infinite. A creation and a creature can never be equal to its Creator, or fully understand it, and that's why we need Christ in order for us to be reconciled to that perfect force.

          Regarding your posting problems, I share your frustration. Half my posts don't ever show up. I need to find a more reliable forum to exchange ideas.

          January 9, 2014 at 8:09 pm |
      • skarphace

        Mr.MightyHigh: The OP said that you cannot create something out of nothing, and then goes on to say that God can create something out of nothing. To me, this is a contradiction as you are saying that God is magic. This, to me, is a cop-out.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:33 pm |
        • Knowledge w/o understanding

          I'm not going to defend the OP. But within our knowledge matter cannot be made from nothing. But that doesn't mean we won't discover something new in the future right. Hey everyone thought the world was flat and the sun revolved around the earth once. I understand limiting our acceptance of something to what we know... which is why God is a very hard concept for many because it requires acceptance of a lot of unknowns.

          January 9, 2014 at 3:45 pm |
    • Damocles

      A watchmaker makes watches, not everything else. If you want to go with that ana-logy then you want to put forth the notion of a seperate deity for every single thing. If the future is going to judge the past based on a watch, should one survive that long, what would they say? Competent, but flawed.

      I've made mention of this before, if you really look around you at nature and you think a deity is involved then you have to say that deity is rather impersonal, cold, unfeeling. Nature thrives on death and we value that death to a certain degree. Do we admire the beautiful, tall, proud tree or the poor sickly one dying under its shade? Do we put strong animals out of their misery? Nope.

      Going strictly by nature with no human interference, this deity would value the strong and have no concern for the weak. Just about everything kills to survive another day.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:55 pm |
      • fred

        Damocles

        "Going strictly by nature with no human interference, this deity would value the strong and have no concern for the weak. Just about everything kills to survive another day"
        =>I could not agree with you more. Why because this is in line with the Bible. We are different than the natural because we have what was told thousands of years ago the image of God. Nature as with all views of the known natural laws is very different from Love. God so loved the world he gave of himself. We give of ourselves. In the absence of God you have that cold indifferent natural. The presence of God in man is what we saw in Jesus. Jesus was very different from the world you describe. This contrast was for your benefit and now you cannot say did not know because you see the difference.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:23 pm |
    • Nogods

      I am pretty certain a 35 year-old carpenter who lived in a remote desert 2,000 years ago, had nothing to do with the creation of the universe.

      January 9, 2014 at 12:31 am |
  19. Paul understood more than me. Thanks for the letters!!

    ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ 🙂 🙂 ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

    January 8, 2014 at 10:30 pm |
  20. Paul wan't smart til he got his butt kicked.

    $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ 🙂 $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

    January 8, 2014 at 10:23 pm |
    • Robert Raulerson

      Well, he was up against John, George and Ringo – so he dint have much of a chance.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:28 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.